Every night of the week in Italy, as the streets fill up for the evening passeggiata, so do the bars and cafes. Detouring from the promenade, Perugians can take a break at one of the umbrella-covered outdoor tables and order un’aperitivo. While patrons sit and watch the crowds pass by, a waiter will bring a drink as well as several platters of appetizers. Some cafes serve simple accompaniments such as chips, olives, and nuts. Others bring many plates of food. Everything is included with the price of a drink and could even substitute for a meal. All this free food struck us as very generous. Italians will just say that you can’t enjoy a drink without something good to eat.
Since we are always trying to fit in with the locals, we spent some time observing what the Italians like for their evening cocktail. Unlike Seattle, it’s rare to find someone sipping a margarita or rum and coke. Italians favor bitter, herbal drinks before dinner. They say it gets the taste buds ready for a meal. Here are a list of some of the most common choices:
1. Negroni: a strong, bright red drink made with gin, Campari, red vermouth and soda
2. Aperol spritz: Aperol, prosecco and soda
3. Campari and soda: a bitter, red drink served with a twist of orange.
4. Prosecco: sparking white wine
5. Martini rosso or Martini bianco: Martini is a brand of sweet vermouth served on the rocks with a twist of lemon (no vodka or gin)
6. Crodino, Chinotto, and Sanbitter: three non-alcoholic, bitter, carbonated drinks. Crodino is orange. Chinotto is light brown. Sanbitter is bright red.
Tonight we had to skip the wonderful tradition of getting out of the house for a walk because we had company for dinner, and I was working all afternoon under terribly stressful conditions to make a good meal for them. (They are Italian and accustomed to very high standards, of course.) Since they planned to arrive at 7:30, I prepared a little aperitivo for them. I offered either prosecco or Sanbitter for drinks. And for an appetizer, I made a plate of pecorino cheese with honey, sliced salami and some toasted bread with grilled vegetables.